Playoffs present another proving ground for Nuggets

Denver coach George Karl confident success will carry over to postseason
by Aaron Lopez

The skeptics have stalked the Denver Nuggets all season.

They’re too young. They don’t have a closer. They can’t win a slow-down game. They can’t win on the road.

After providing evidence to the contrary over the past four months, the Nuggets have one more theory to disprove.

“I’m excited because a lot of people say our style will be controlled in the playoffs,” Denver coach George Karl said Tuesday. “I think they say that about all up-and-coming teams. They always find something wrong with them. They always want to take your weakness and magnify it to say you can’t be successful in the playoffs.”

Karl heard the doubters during his days with the Seattle SuperSonics. Despite winning a franchise-record 64 games in 1995-96, critics pointed to Seattle’s lack of shooting and questioned its trapping defensive style.

The Sonics reached the NBA Finals, falling to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in six games.

Seventeen years later, Karl has guided the Nuggets to a franchise NBA-record 56 wins. Denver began the year as the league’s third-youngest teams and was written off after going 11-12 while playing 17 of its first 23 games on the road.

Since then, Ty Lawson has emerged as an All-Star worthy point guard, averaging 19.5 points and 6.9 assists in his past 35 games. He and veteran swingman Andre Iguodala also have combined to make four game-winning shots in the final 10 seconds this season.

Behind their dynamic backcourt and one of the NBA’s top benches, the Nuggets are 45-13 since Dec. 14 and have clinched home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Denver can secure the No. 3 seed with a home victory Wednesday night against the Phoenix Suns.

With playoff positioning still at stake, Karl said he doesn’t plan to alter his approach to the regular-season finale. Veterans Andre Iguodala and Andre Miller might see limited minutes, while forward Kenneth Faried is out with a sprained left ankle.

“I’m not a huge fan of resting guys,” Karl said. “I don’t want to give back any of our rhythm or flow of winning. There’s a confidence that comes by playing the same way. I’m not going to disrupt it.

“I think we’re too young of a team to act like we’ve been there before. We’ve got to take the good stuff of what we’re doing and upgrade it going into the playoffs.”

Denver’s first-round opponent won’t be determined until after the West Coast games are played Wednesday.

The Memphis Grizzlies are locked into the No. 5 spot, but the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets are still battling for sixth.

The Nuggets went 3-1 against the Warriors and 4-0 against Rockets during the regular season. Both teams play at a fast pace, while the Grizzlies have the NBA’s top scoring defense at 89.5 points per game.

Memphis lost three of four games to Denver, including an 87-80 defeat at Pepsi Center on March 15.

“I think my team is pretty balanced,” Karl said. “It can play slow, it can play fast. But more than anything, it wants to attack you and wear you out.”

Denver leads the NBA in fast-break points and points in the paint, which are byproducts of its defense; the Nuggets are second in steals and third in blocked shots.

Even more telling, Denver is 33-3 when holding the opposition under 100 points.

“We want to score a high number, but we do that because we think we can create offense with our defense,” Karl said. “As I’ve stated before, when we hold a team under 100 points, we win. So if a team’s going to slow us down (in the playoffs), they might be helping us win games.”